Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
This is Bill Clinton week, as the former President and CBS launch his $10 million memoirs. Though some people seem eager to refight the ethics wars of the 1990s, it strikes us that the news is how much smaller his Presidency looms in historical terms a mere three years after it ended.
The early reviewers report that the bulk of Mr. Clinton's 957-page tome is personal, and perhaps that's of necessity. Even during the 1990s, questions about his personal and public character dwarfed debates over policy, and time has only accentuated this disparity. Compared to the achievements of Ronald Reagan that we have just celebrated -- ending the Cold War in victory, breaking inflation and slowing the growth of government -- Mr. Clinton's Presidency seems far less consequential.
Future historians may well find his eight years in office to have been a parenthesis between two greater political eras. After his attempts to expand the government were rebuffed by voters in 1994, Mr. Clinton settled for consolidating the political gains of the Reagan years. His greatest achievement -- welfare reform -- had been percolating on the political right for a generation. Certainly he deserves credit for pushing that, as well as Nafta, despite opposition from his fellow Democrats.
The years have not been as kind to some of Mr. Clinton's other claims to posterity. The economic boom of the 1990s proved to be partly a financial bubble that we now know began to burst with the stock market break in April 2000. The growth that was real resulted less from any specific policy than from the gridlock between Mr. Clinton and the GOP Congress that kept government from doing much at all after 1994. No period since the 1920s was as free of new federal intrusion.
We now know that the relative peace of the 1990s was also part illusion. The rapid decline in defense spending after the end of the Cold War helped balance the federal budget. But as we learned on 9/11, the 1990s were years in which we stored up foreign-policy trouble.
Mr. Clinton says in his book that he warned the new President Bush that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were our gravest national threat. But even if we take him at his word, that leaves the question of why he did so little to counter that threat as it was gathering. The entire political class shares the blame here, but Mr. Clinton manifestly did not use his Presidential platform to educate or warn the public about the rising dangers. Bin Laden was barely mentioned during the election campaign of 2000, and today's resurgent deficits result in part from the need to make up for money that wasn't spent on defense during our holiday from history in the 1990s.
Historians will no doubt ask why a man of such prodigious, indeed prodigal, talents would end up with such a thin record. This is where the question of character will intrude. Any Presidency has only so much energy and capital to spend, and Mr. Clinton's ethical travails frittered away much of his....
EVEN AS THE LAST OF THE TRIBUTES to Ronald Reagan straggle out, there's an elementary fact about his presidency that anyone who didn't live through it might not have picked up from the coverage. It's the fact that, after years and years of frightening drift, suddenly you could tell that someone in Washington was steering the ship.
It felt that way from the moment of Reagan's inauguration. No sooner had the new president uttered the oath of office, than at long last the American hostages in Tehran were set free. Literally, at midday on Inauguration Day, the 52 Americans held prisoner for 444 days by a regime that daily reviled the United States as the Great Satan were let go. And this was no dumb luck. Informed accounts of the Algiers negotiations for the hostages' release confirm that fear of what Reagan might do--combined with a continuing desire to humiliate Carter--governed the Iranians' timing.
Nor was this a one-time success. The same firmness and clarity that caused candidate Reagan, and president-elect Reagan, to call the hostage-takers" criminals and kidnappers" would cause President Reagan a few months later to fire 12,000 air traffic controllers who launched an illegal strike. Four hours into the PATCO strike, he gave them 48 hours to return to work. In explaining his action, the president read on the air the brief oath each controller had taken in assuming his job, an oath in which he promised not to strike. When the 48-hour deadline passed, Reagan did exactly what he had said. And he never backed down.
Thus, within seven months of coming to Washington, Reagan had bracingly taken command. Ordinary people started to feel that effective action wasn't beyond the president after all.
TO APPRECIATE THIS, you have to realize how inured Americans had become to national turmoil and disaster. And that's not just a reference to the Carter years--uneasy as they were, and culminating as they did in the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 (one month after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran) and, on the home front, in inflation over 13 percent. No, the Carter years were more or less in line with what had come before.
The early 1970s were dominated by the Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of a president, and the bitter American defeat in Vietnam, with its 57,000 American dead and legions of refugees. For that matter, what came before that was the ur-troubled-decade, the 1960s, with its annual race riots (the"long hot summers" whose death toll totaled about 300), the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and the convulsions of the war protests and the counterculture....
The story of how President Bush ended up with Saddam Hussein's pistol mounted in his private study off the Oval Office has dribbled out in the last few weeks, and it is a good one.
As first reported in Time magazine, the soldiers who captured Mr. Hussein in December presented the mounted sidearm as a gift to Mr. Bush in a visit to the White House. They were members of the Army's Delta Force team, Mr. Bush later told reporters, and they had confiscated the unloaded pistol from Mr. Hussein's lap when they pulled him out of his spider hole near Tikrit.
"It's now the property of the U.S. government," Mr. Bush said at a news conference this month in Savannah, Ga., when asked specifically about the pistol and whether he would return it to the people of Iraq. What the gun tells us about the president, the war and the relationship of the Bush family to Mr. Hussein is another story entirely. It is in many ways better, or at least more interesting, than the first.
The Iraqi dictator, after all, tried to assassinate Mr. Bush's father in 1993, when he was only a year out of the White House, as payback for the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which the first President Bush had waged on Mr. Hussein. In other words, the gun is more than a gun, at least according to the Freudians.
"It's the phallic equivalent of a scalp - I mean that quite seriously," said Stanley A. Renshon, a psychoanalyst and political scientist at the City University of New York who has just completed a book, to be published by Palgrave/Macmillan in September, called"In His Father's Shadow: The Transformations of George W. Bush."
In Mr. Renshon's view, Mr. Bush went to war for geo-strategic reasons, but there was a powerful personal element as well. In short, Mr. Hussein's gun is a trophy that symbolizes victories both military and psychic.
"There are a lot of different levels at which this operates," Mr. Renshon said."The critics say this is all about finishing up Daddy's mess. I think that is way too off base to be serious. But psychology operates regardless of party line, and this seems to me to be a case in which psychology can't help but express itself, because it's a natural outgrowth of what he's been through and how he feels about it. It's perfectly normal to me."
Michael Sherry, a military historian at Northwestern University, noted that there was a long record of soldiers seizing the weapons of vanquished enemies as the ultimate symbols of defeat. (Even so, it is illegal for American soldiers to take guns off an enemy and keep them for themselves, which is almost certainly why the president declared that the pistol was United States government property rather than his own.)
Relinquishing weapons has historically been part of surrender ceremonies, even though Ulysses S. Grant chose not to ask for Robert E. Lee's sword at Appomattox Court House in 1865 and excluded officers' sidearms from the weapons that the Army of Northern Virginia was expected to turn over to him.
Mr. Hussein's pistol, which Mr. Bush shows off to visitors, is a different matter altogether, Mr. Sherry said, because it was presidential acquisition by force."Whatever specific symbolism Bush may privately attach to this token, it does make it look to the external viewer that he sees this in very personal terms," Mr. Sherry said. In the end, he said,"I'm left feeling that it sounds kind of childish...."
IN THE FALL of 1981, Ronald Reagan placed a phone call from the Oval Office to a lawyer named Jesse Eschbach. Reagan had decided to nominate Eschbach to the federal bench and was calling to ask him to serve. Would he serve! Of course! Judge Eschbach later wrote Reagan to express"my deep appreciation for your kindness and consideration in calling me. It was an experience our family will never forget."
Jesse Eschbach was one of the 382 judges Ronald Reagan appointed. That was (and remains) a record number for one president. With his choices, Reagan filled almost half of the sitting federal judiciary.
Reagan made similar calls to most of his nominees. That was a Reagan innovation. The phone calls indicated how much Reagan cared about judicial selection. So did the process he instituted for vetting nominees. Reagan was the first president to bring serious candidates for the bench to Washington for extensive interviewing. More than 1,000 prospects made the trip.
Reagan had the same interest in judicial selection as his Democratic hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, did. Presidents who served between them often saw judgeships in terms of patronage--of political favors to be dispensed. But both Roosevelt and Reagan understood judicial selection as an opportunity to influence the path of the law.
Both men felt that way because both had complaints about where the law had been going. Both contended for judges who would exercise restraint. In Reagan's case, he objected to the tendency of courts to declare rights not found in the text or history of the Constitution. To Reagan, the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, which declared the abortion right, was the most notorious example of what a court shouldn't do.
Reagan thus initiated through his judicial selection an important argument about the proper role of the courts. The issue has dominated the politics of judicial selection ever since, with the two parties now firmly on opposite sides. The nominees fought over have included ones designated not only for the Supreme Court but also for the lower courts.
Reagan managed to get most of his nominees confirmed when Republicans held the Senate, as was the case through 1986. But when Democrats regained control in 1987, his batting average declined.
That Congress established the importance to judicial selection of divided government. George H.W. Bush faced a Democratic Senate, and Bill Clinton, for six of his eight years, a Republican Senate. Both presidents would have seen more nominees confirmed had their parties been in the majority....
Attorney Lynne Stewart is about to go on trial for aiding and abetting the terrorist leader Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart is an avowed supporter of terrorism and an outspoken Communist. Whether she is a member of the party or no is really irrelevant. Her heroes -- as she proudly proclaimed in a toast at the annual convention of the National Lawyers Guild where she was the keynote speaker -- are mass murderers and terrorists, Ho and Lenin and Mao. According to her radical colleague Ron Kuby, Stewart not only identifies with her terrorist clients (she has more than one) but has a passionate affection for the blind sheik who, it will be remembered, plotted to kill 250,000 innocent Americans by blowing up the World Trade Center and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels during rush hour. Lynne Stewart is an ideological monster -- one of the ideological monsters of the progressive left who have spent their political lives supporting America's enemies while defending their treachery as"patriotism" and defenses of the Constitution.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of"liberals" and libertarians who are ready to leap to her defense, and who find John Ashcroft a greater threat than she -- perhaps because Ashcroft has a quaint belief in God, but more likely because he takes seriously the mortal threat emanating from the political left and its jihadist friends and they obviously don't. The current issue of Reason magazine has a defense of Stewart. So does the Sunday op-ed section of the Los Angeles Times. Written by a Brooklyn attorney named Gerald Shargel, the column is titled"Sheik's Lawyer Fights Guilt By Association." A sub-title reads"Rosenberg Case Shadows Trial." I couldn't have captured the continuity better myself. Shargel objects to the prosecution's plans to introduce a video tape of Osama bin Laden supporting the blind Sheik and threatening terror to free him. This Shargel claims is"Guilt by Association." The association is this: Osama Bin Laden, Omar Abdel Rahman and Lynne Stewart are part of a world-wide radical movement which seeks the destruction of the United States. Some members of this movement oppose terrorism and some oppose radical Islam. Lynne Stewart isn't one of them.
Shargel shows his own radical hand in this disingenuous comment:"Like [Lynne] Stewart, the Rosenbergs held opinions that were unconventional and unacceptable in their day. Today, many claim that they were convicted and punished for those beliefs -- for their desire, misguided or not, to change this country and the world -- rather than for what they did or did not do." Those who make such claims either share the Rosenbergs' socialist delusions and anti-American fevers, or are unacquainted with the facts. Hitler also tried to change the world. But no one would be fatuous enough to write sentences like this in defense of Hitler's agents. The Rosenbergs were convicted because they were spies for the greatest mass murderer in human history. (BTW the idea that Ethel didn't know what her husband was doing is preposterous. Morally, she was as guilty as he was.) The Rosenbergs' opinions were unacceptable then not because they were unconventional but because they were morally reprehensible. And so they are today. Or should be....
A BOOK launched last week covers a period of Australian history when parents weren't concerned about their children eating junk food.
Instead, many worried, and desperately, that they might not eat at all.
Today Peter Garrett, Bob Brown and John Howard are seen as extremists by their more hysterical enemies.
During the period of this book there were real extremists: Marxists plotting revolution and fascists looking for a general to help do the same.
And forget about 1000 troops overseas. Back then there were 800 times more abroad in trouble spots much worse than Baghdad.
The book makes clear what a blessed, secure and opulent life we now lead, no matter how we fret over petrol prices, childhood reading skills, or even international terrorism.
It is called The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate: Vol 2 1929-1962 (Melbourne University Publishing, edited by Ann Millar).
It has 104 characters: the people who retired from the Senate, were voted out or, in the cases of 21, died in office in that 33 year period.
Volume One revealed what a bunch of wonderful scoundrels and gifted prophets helped create our nation.
In this second instalment, the life stories of the 103 men and one woman who completed service in the Senate between 1929 and 1962 illustrate the effect global cataclysms had on Australians.
They served between the end of the Roaring '20s and the start of the Swinging '60s. More accurately, they served from the Great Depression, through World War II and into a prosperity blighted by a nuclear fuelled Cold War.
"In those three decades the country suffered a life-threatening illness followed by a near-death experience and a slow recuperation haunted by constant fear of a relapse," wrote Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans in an introduction.
Among the senators were one who fought in the Boer war, World War I and World War II. Another was a savage opponent of conscription whose three sons volunteered during World War I. Only one returned.
Labor's Senate Leader and, more important, its most gifted in-house historian, John Faulkner, has highlighted Agnes Robertson Robertson, a formidable woman who did much despite having to spend her adult life explaining that her married name was the same as her middle given name.
Widowed at 30 in 1912 with three small children, she taught school until 1943 and was busy with church and community matters.
Socially and politically conservative, she nevertheless fought actively for equal rights for women.
In 1949 she became the first Liberal woman elected to the Senate from Western Australia. She was 65.
Faulkner took up her story in an address at the book's launching:"In 1955 the Liberals dropped her from their ticket because they considered her too old.
"She promptly transferred her allegiance to the Country Party, who did not consider her too old to get first place on their ticket.
"After all, they had the precedent of South Australian Labor Senator Frederick Ward -- first elected in 1947 at the age of 75."
Unable to resist a contemporary dig, Faulkner ended this section by saying:"No one should tell Peter Costello about Agnes Robertson's parliamentary career."
He also pointed out that one senator served just 10 days before dying in office, while George Foster Pearce made it through 37 years....
"The Greatest Story Ever Told."
"The Scarlet Presidency."
Depending upon whom you talk to, the nearly 1,000-page memoir by former President Bill Clinton could wear all of these possible titles, befitting its outsized, often larger-than- life main character. Arriving this week with much fanfare and already a No. 1 best-seller based on pre-orders, the story of America's first Baby Boom president is simply and aptly titled"My Life."
In a sense, Clinton's new book is part of a political coming out party for the 57-year-old former president. In the years since leaving the White House, the onetime Arkansas governor has moved much of his personal and public life to New York. While working on his book, he's also been busy with speaking engagements around the world, plans for his presidential library, and even offering political advice to other Democrats running for president in 2004.
Yet, it could also be said Clinton has kept a relatively low profile since leaving office in 2001 amid lingering rancor about his sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Some Democrats avoided him, perceiving him as a political millstone around their necks, while other critics doomed him to rank among history's worst, most disgraced presidents.
But that's already changing. Clinton seems ready once again to move from occasional news items about his whereabouts right up to the front page with revelations from his blockbuster memoir. The headlines suggest a broader transformation is taking place with Clinton, a search for a way out of the political wilderness for a man once called"The Comeback Kid."
On Sunday's edition of"60 Minutes," Clinton provided some of the coming attractions by defending much of his presidency while lamenting his affair with Lewinsky and the impeachment battle that erupted, enshrouding his second term in a cloud of accusation.
Last Monday, Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York's junior U.S. senator, were welcomed with glowing words by President George W. Bush for an official presidential portrait unveiling at the Oval Office.
And on Nov. 18, the $165 million William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park will open in Little Rock, Ark. - a sprawling, glass-covered building fashioned as a bridge, playing off the Clinton administration's oft-repeated theme of"building a bridge to the 21st century."
The one-two punch of a book tour and a presidential library opening - expected to be attended by other U.S. presidents - could influence Clinton's legacy in much the same way that the week-long memorials to President Ronald Reagan did earlier this month.
"The question of legacy for Bill Clinton is not in the past tense but in the future," says Dick Morris, once a top Clinton political operative and now an ardent critic, with his own recent book,"Reinventing History," attacking the Clintons."In Bill's case, he's preparing for Hillary's run and how America sees his eight years is a big part of that equation."
For many Americans, Clinton's memoir may allow a fuller understanding of this enigmatic politician who defined the 1990s - all at once brilliant and confounding, optimistic and far- sighted, yet indulgent, undisciplined and sometimes self-destructive. For Clinton it may also represent a second chance at reformulating history, a gamble not immediately influenced by his detractors and one judged mainly on its merits.
It also may provide some answers for those curious about what Bill Clinton's been up to since he left the White House nearly four years ago.
From her insurance office in Harlem, Carol Bellamy recalls meeting her neighbor, former President Bill Clinton, as he worked the streets like a local politician, greeting people and chatting them up like he was still running for office.
"It was unbelievable that a president of the United States should take such an interest in us," said Bellamy, whose company is one of several Harlem area small businesses receiving technical and managerial assistance through a program set up with Clinton's help.
Shortly after opening his own office in Harlem, Clinton cooperated with the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, New York University's business school, the financial company Booz, Allen, Hamilton and others in starting the program. For Bellamy's modest insurance firm, it meant meeting with seasoned MBAs who provided specific advice that improved her accounting methods, her marketing approach and her focus on her financial goals. Other small Harlem businesses helped by the program include a flower store, a wedding and card shop, a plumbing company, a restaurant, a dentist and a pharmacy.
Though Clinton's often away from his office on other ventures, in Harlem his presidential foundation has been active with local schools, helping to recruit knowledgeable adult volunteers to teach the basics of banking to young people in sixth to 12th grades."There is a strong sense of community here in Harlem, and I really enjoy being a part of this vibrant neighborhood. I am looking for partners who want to bring opportunities to Harlem," Clinton said at an April 2002 appearance at the Roberto Clemente Middle School, not far from his 125th Street office.
Bellamy says she's met Clinton three times since the former president moved his office to Harlem and was impressed that Clinton insisted on follow-up visits to make sure the program was working as promised."I always felt he was a courageous and responsive person and showed sincerity," says Bellamy."He kept his word and helped us."
The Harlem Chamber of Commerce president, Lloyd A. Williams, says Clinton has been remarkably"hands-on," devoting many hours and hosting meetings about the program at his office, which Williams described as"palatial and dramatic," with expansive views of Manhattan....
In his upcoming memoir, former President Bill Clinton tells the story of his life and his presidency. If you ask Columbia Journalism School professor Evan Cornog, however, Clinton is not the first president to spin a yarn, and he certainly will not be the last. According to Cornog, storytelling has always been a president's most important task. In his new book due out in August,"The Power and the Story: How the Crafted Presidential Narrative Has Determined Success from George Washington to George W. Bush" (Penguin Press, $24.95), he argues that even"from the earliest days of the American republic ... those seeking the nation's highest office have had to tell persuasive stories - about the nation, about its problems and, most of all, about themselves."
Before the days of blockbuster publishing deals, presidential narratives made their way into the world through newspaper articles, stump speeches and word-of-mouth anecdotes. Then as now, a good story could make the difference in a tight election, even if it wasn't created by the president himself. For example, in 1840, a Baltimore newspaper made a crack about William Henry Harrison's being happier in a log cabin than the White House."Harrison's people didn't come up with that log cabin," Cornog said in an interview by phone last week,"but they ran with it since it gave Harrison the opportunity to appear as the honest husband of the country." Voters soon forgot Harrison was actually the scion of Virginia aristocracy.
To Cornog, this kind of massaging of the truth is not a bad thing, especially since voters tend to know when they are being misled. In the 1992 campaign, George H.W. Bush donned flannel shirts and gobbled down pork rinds in an attempt to portray himself as a regular guy."And then in a debate with Bill Clinton a voter asked him how the recession had affected him," Cornog said,"and Bush was unable to convince her that he had suffered at all. Bill Clinton then took the question and conveyed an amazing empathy for regular people, and he won the election."
The key to a compelling presidential narrative is not only an element of truth but some resonance with the public at large."Look at John F. Kennedy and his story," Cornog said, referring to Kennedy's wartime experience."Being able to lead your men off a shattered PT boat to an island and to rescue said a lot about his capacity for leadership and endurance. And people were attracted to that." A quarter century later, Ronald Reagan displayed a more jocular kind of heroism when he quipped to surgeons about to remove an assassin's bullet:"I hope you guys are Republicans.""That said something about his courage," Cornog said,"about his humor, about his lack of self-importance."
As a former actor, Reagan had a distinct advantage in getting his story out to the public. Thanks to 24-hour news coverage, Cornog argued,"presidents have become storytellers themselves. They are enacting the stories live." And for Cornog's dollar, no modern American president was more skilled at doing this than Clinton."People were talking last week about Reagan as the great communicator; Clinton was even more so. The way he dealt with people one on one and on stage gave them the sense that they were connecting with him - that he cared how people lived their lives."
Clinton is from the South and has the obvious advantage of coming from a culture of storytellers, but Cornog argues there is no formula to shaping a compelling narrative. After all, people's needs change. Take, for instance George W. Bush's narrative of being a straight shooter. As Cornog said,"One of Bush's temperamental qualities is that he is a very stubborn person, a determined person. That simple determination seemed exactly what the nation needed after 9/11." In recent months Cornog has watched this narrative turn on Bush."When faced with a more complex and ongoing problem, such as Iraq, that stubbornness can seem like obtuseness."
Cornog looks forward to Clinton's memoir because not only is the former president a good storyteller, but the focus of his narrative will probably shift."I may be wrong about this, but one of the great lessons of Monica [Lewinsky] is that ultimately the press and the Republicans were more interested in her than voters. Sure, people want to know the naughty bits. But I think I am not alone in being more interested to see how he deals with his role in the embassy bombings, the Sudan, the presence of al-Qaida...."
As the lives of great men all remind us, figuring out their place in history is no easy thing.
It only seems simpler when the passage of time lends perspective. People who affect the world during their lifetime, after all, may be judged for their deeds but only evaluated by their legacies. Some movers and shakers strut their hour upon the stage, signifying nothing. Others leave profound imprints sometimes not fully seen until years later.
Those who rule or govern are the hardest of all to judge. I think this is because governance itself is a necessary evil, which must control and constrain the evil in men themselves.
The rare rule of saints in history is a reminder: Images of Marcus Aurelius were revered in Roman households for a century after his death, but his emperorship flowed into failure. Aurelius himself grasped this; in his Meditations he wrote, what is the end of it all? A puff of smoke (the funeral pyre) and a legend — or maybe not even a legend.
This, from the ruler of his known world.
A historian of Julius Caesar's era seriously posed the question of whether it might have been better if Caesar had never been born. One of the greatest military leaders in human history, hugely charismatic, with keen insight into the troubles of his time, Caesar was also the destroyer of hundreds of thousands and the republic itself, implacable yet personally kind and generous, hated by most of the elite, loved by the common Roman citizen and soldier.
No one really understood him then, and no one fully understands him now. His legacy was not his conquests but his destruction of the last debris of republican rule, which allowed his successor, Augustus, to erect the Roman Empire.
American presidents are not emperors, but they are in a real sense elected kings. Unlike the various"greats" of the Old World, few have been warriors. George Washington was no Caesar; conscious of the lessons of Roman history, he helped create rather than destroy his republic.
Abraham Lincoln, the great divider and great unifier — more than a million dead bodies — was also personally irreproachable. Both men left lasting legacies; they changed America profoundly and permanently, but — and this still bothers us — nobody ever really knew them.
Washington remained dignified, aloof and in command. Lincoln, beloved of his people, never seemed to feel himself one of them. Noticeably, in moving speeches, he referred to"this people" or"this town," never"my people" or"my town."
This seems to be a characteristic of"great" men. Caesar called himself"Caesar," omitting the Roman custom of first and gentile names, and in different times and society Washington and Lincoln might have done the same.
For better or worse, the long-term reputation of American presidents now resides in the hands of (mainly) academic historians.
The good thing is that the vilification and hatreds expressed by contemporary politicians and press — and Lincoln was probably the most vilified president in our history, even by the Northern press, which described him as"ape" or"baboon" and much preferred 19th-century florid oratory to his simple, beautiful style — is largely forgotten or ignored. Not what contemporaries thought or said about presidents counts, only their lasting legacies.
The bad thing, of course, is that even historians are ruled by fashion and current prejudices, which is why reputations rise and fall. Historians also always believe they are smarter, more learned and perhaps wiser than the presidents whose reputations they dissect....
"Even God realized he couldn't change the past. That's why he created historians." -- Anonymous
Michael Beschloss is a serious historian. He says no accurate assessment of Ronald Reagan's presidency can be made for another 30 years.
Beschloss' point is well taken. There will be a decade or so of hagiography -- we are already seeing it -- where Reagan is depicted as the winner of the Cold War, the force behind 18 years of economic prosperity and the champion of human freedom.
This rosy look will be followed by the" counter-revolution" where revisionist historians completely debunk the earlier assessments, painting Reagan as a bumbler, an intellectual lightweight, a warmonger, the instigator of class warfare, a racist, sexist and worse.
The debunking will be followed by an amalgam where everything blends together, resulting in an above-average president who had some notable accomplishments and made some serious mistakes. Put him in the second row of"near great" presidents.
I'm not a serious historian; I think Ronald Reagan was the most important president of the second half of the 20th century and arguably the most important person. I don't care whether this point is well taken or not.
I side with those who believe Reagan's economic policies -- but much more importantly his ability to communicate to an America mired in"malaise" that"America's best days are ahead of her" -- helped spur the sense of optimism that is always the foundation of risk-taking, entrepreneurialism and job creation.
From 1982, when Reagan supported Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker's successful attempt to squeeze inflation out of the economy, to 1988, when Reagan left office, economic growth was an astonishing 4.7 percent a year, while unemployment fell from nearly 11 percent to 5.3 percent.
I credit Reagan with bringing down the"Evil Empire," resulting in a bloodless revolution in Eastern Europe -- and within the Soviet Union -- that freed a half-dozen countries and hundreds of millions of people from that empire's grip. For proof, just look at the admission of high-ranking Soviet officers that this was so....
While Democrat John Kerry struggles to define himself to the public, President Bush is encountering image troubles as well. Trying to run on his record, Bush finds himself subject to frequent comparisons with other GOP luminaries: Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush, Sen. John McCain, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The comparisons do not always benefit Bush, a polarizing political figure in a tough re-election battle.
The country's recent focus on Reagan made Bush-Reagan comparisons inevitable, and Bush clearly sees himself as in the Reagan mold. Borrowing from Reagan, Bush has started presenting himself as an optimist.
While both presidents governed from the right, Bush lacks Reagan's charm and fabled skills at communicating and building alliances. Such comparisons are sure to re-emerge when the party pays tribute to Reagan at the GOP convention in early September. Bush does not have much room to maneuver in terms of any midcourse image adjustment even if he wanted to.
``I think we pretty much know who Bush is,'' said Allan J. Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University.
``Bush is a hedge hog, he's the guy who bulls ahead with what he thinks is right and doesn't let anything deflect him,'' Lichtman said. ``Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were foxes. They were continually reinventing themselves. Not George W. Bush. He is what he is, like it or not....''
Frank Rich, in the NYT (June 20, 2004):
...Experts kept saying how "surprised" everyone was about "the outpouring" for Reagan, but saying didn't make it so. The dirty little secret of the week: the outpouring didn't live up to its hype. "There was this kind of extraordinary outpouring not by the public but by reporters who should know better," as Morley Safer told Larry King after it was over.
A total of some 200,000 Americans passed by the coffin in California and Washington. The crowds watching the funeral procession in Washington numbered in the "tens of thousands," reported The Washington Post. By comparison, three million Americans greeted the cross-country journey of Warren Harding's funeral train from San Francisco to Washington when he died in office in the steamy August of 1923, according to Mark Sullivan's history, "Our Times." It took 3,500 soldiers to direct the crowd in his hometown of Marion, Ohio, alone. The grief for Harding was so pronounced in New York, a city that hardly knew him, that The Times reported how theaters canceled their shows to hold impromptu memorial gatherings for those citizens unable to jam into the packed services held in Trinity Church at Wall Street and Temple Emanu-El uptown and most houses of worship in between. Next to that, the Reagan outpouring, much of it carried out by bubbly TV-camera-seeking citizens in halter tops and shorts, was grief lite.
Harding's huge turnout didn't alter his hapless historical fate, but at least it was a genuine event. When every tragic news story, from Columbine to the Columbia shuttle to JonBenet Ramsey and Chandra Levy, is supersized in our national theater of TV, all of them are downsized. Incessant hyperbole becomes as numbing as Muzak. No matter how many TV recyclings, the close-ups of Nancy Reagan's three trips to her husband's coffin may never trump the single long shot of John John saluting his father. No matter how many pundits proclaim Reagan a great president, a realistic assessment remains on hold especially since, as The Los Angeles Times reported, 90 percent of the 55 million pages of his papers is still off-limits to scholars at the presidential library where he was entombed. (A 2001 George W. Bush executive order could restrict access to every modern president's historical record indefinitely.)
When that entombment finally arrived, national mourning was giving way to national boredom. Except at Fox News Channel, ratings did not spike on either network or cable. "It was not a massively watched event," one CNN producer said to The Times's Bill Carter. "It was a largely watched event." Translation: Is it too late to grab a piece of the new J. Lo nuptials? Eventually, even Fox was elbowing Reagan into the wings for its O. J. retrospectives. On the Friday morning of Reagan's National Cathedral funeral, Matt Lauer tried to hold the "Today" show audience by promising a medley of mediathon standards: "A lot of news coming out of Washington, Katie, but there's other news to talk about as well, including major developments in the Kobe Bryant, Martha Stewart and Scott Peterson cases."
Only three days later, Bill Clinton, the star of the longest-running news miniseries of them all, "Impeachment of the President," was back in the White House, as a preview of coming attractions for the televised book tour he kicks off tonight on "60 Minutes." Even President Bush was glad to see him. Once people line up to buy the book, there will be no shortage of talking heads remarking on "the surprise outpouring" for the man they declared dead just a few years ago. At least Ronald Reagan, who understood nothing if not the cruel and fickle vagaries of show business, might find it funny. You can almost hear him saying, "There you go again."
He is a scion of American aristocracy whose path through life has been strewn with privilege.
Born to a family with deep roots on the Eastern Seaboard and a powerful place in U.S. history, he was pushed out of the nest into a boarding school where he often felt out of place. But that school -- and his name -- would help pave the way into an Ivy League college.
At Yale, he was tapped for an exclusive secret society. The first-born son of a father who was a World War II pilot, he too learned to fly and served his country during wartime.
His first run at political office was a disaster. Accused of carpetbagging, he was badly thumped. But he dusted himself off and went to work. Years later, he would again try his hand at politics. This time he would succeed, and spectacularly.
Now he is running for president of the United States. And that's the curious thing: While this thumbnail biography describes President Bush to a T, it also describes his presumed Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
Indeed, the lives of both candidates, in broad strokes, paint a classic portrait of American privilege."These people are definitely in the American hereditary upper class," said Gary Boyd Roberts, a Boston genealogist who has traced Bush's and Kerry's lineages and discovered they are distantly related. (Branches of their family trees cross eight times, said Roberts; at the closest point, they are ninth cousins). They are also descended from medieval kings.
How has privilege played out in their lives? Very differently, as it turns out.
Bush, a true social and political aristocrat, has spent much of his life publicly distancing himself from his patrician roots, while quietly availing himself of family connections."Privilege completely and utterly defines George Bush," said his biographer, Texas journalist Bill Minutaglio."I don't think it's pejorative to point that out."
Kerry, whose family glory lies in an illustrious and historic past, has worked energetically to secure his place in the upper reaches of American society, and twice married heiresses."His parents came from modest wealth," said his biographer, historian Douglas Brinkley."He was always a little cash-poor for the milieu he was running around in. He's like the F. Scott Fitzgerald figure looking into that world with one foot in and one foot out."
The novelist Christopher Buckley, an acerbic social observer who wrote speeches for Bush's father when he was vice president, said of the two political rivals:"Bush set out to distance himself from the world of Eastern establishmentarian privilege.... The funny thing is that Kerry sort of looks more like the guy who was born with the silver spoon, but economically, his circumstances were far less golden. That's the paradox...."
Stephen Kinzer, in the Wash Post (June 11, 2004):
Not everyone was shocked by the revelations of the ways American soldiers have abused Iraqi prisoners. Those who have studied techniques that American interrogators taught and used in Vietnam, Latin America, and elsewhere during past decades felt only a grim sense of recognition.
"We are living an illusion if we think these practices are unique," said Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador. "What is unique is the graphic pictorial evidence that drives it home. But that the United States has been complicit with torture in Vietnam and Latin America, there can be no doubt. It may be sinking into the public consciousness for the first time, but expressions of shock from people whose business is foreign policy are quite hypocritical."
In Vietnam, some American intelligence officers were taught techniques of torture developed by France and other countries that had waged counterinsurgency wars. The best-known of the programs in which the techniques were used, called Operation Phoenix, was aimed at eliminating enemy spies and informers and resulted in the deaths of thousands of Vietnamese, some of whom died during torture.
Many of the most prominent officers accused of promoting torture in Latin
America during the 1970s and '80s were graduates of the U.S. Army School of
the Americas, where U.S. trainers instruct officers from Latin American countries.
Since the school's founding in 1946, more than 60,000 Latin American officers
have attended its courses, among them General Leopoldo Galtieri, who headed
Argentina's military junta in the early 1980s; Colonel Roberto D'Aubuisson,
leader of a death squad in El Salvador during the same period; and former Guatemalan
President Efrain Rios Montt, during whose presidency thousands of Guatemalan
civilians were tortured and murdered. ...
Michael Barone, in the LAT (June 18, 2004):
On Jan. 5, 1762, the Czarina Elizabeth died. Russia was in the midst of the Seven Years' War, fighting alongside Austria and France and against the Prussia of Frederick the Great. Prussia was on the verge of defeat: Before he learned of the czarina's death, Frederick wrote to an aide,"We ought now to think of preserving for my nephew, by way of negotiation, whatever fragments of my territory we can save from the avidity of my enemies." But Elizabeth's death changed everything. Her successor, the Czar Peter III, was an admirer of Frederick, and Russia withdrew from the war. Frederick prevailed on the battlefield and emerged the winner in the treaties signed in 1763.
A change in leadership in wartime can change the outcome of the war. It's not always true: Adolf Hitler took heart when Franklin Roosevelt died April 12, 1945. He thought Roosevelt's death would rescue him as Elizabeth's death had rescued Frederick. But Harry Truman carried on the war, and before the end of the month Hitler was dead in his bunker. Still, leadership change in a war is risky business.
Consider the presidential election of 1864. The defeat of the incumbent, Abraham Lincoln, would have made an enormous difference. Union casualties were heavy throughout the year. It was widely expected that Gen. George McClellan, ousted from heading the Union army by Lincoln in 1862, would be the Democratic nominee and that he would win. Lincoln was renominated by the Republican National Convention in June, but through September many prominent Republicans were plotting to choose another nominee. Lincoln clearly stood for continued prosecution of the war, and the Republican platform came out strongly for the abolition of slavery. The Democrats were united around McClellan at their August convention but divided on policy. The Copperhead wing of the party wanted immediate peace, and it managed to write the party platform. ...
Bill Clinton was on a roll, telling a rapt audience at New York University this week about his battles against impeachment and life in the White House. But then he abruptly stopped, and left listeners with a big tease:
"If you like what I talked about," he said,"wait until you read the book."
With Clinton's memoir,"My Life," set to hit stores next week, the stories behind its publication are bursting with superlatives: The former president got a $10-million advance from publisher Alfred A. Knopf, which is thought to be the largest amount ever paid for a nonfiction political book. And the company announced a first printing of 1.5 million copies, the largest ever for a presidential autobiography.
No previous White House memoir has generated comparable interest. And the reason, many observers contend, does not rest in the Monica S. Lewinsky sex scandal alone. It is the fact that the long-awaited life story of Clinton -- loved by some, hated by others -- is hitting the American book market at a moment when it is primed to sell more copies of such a work than ever before.
Media attention also has been stoked by the possibility that Clinton's book, appearing in the midst of a presidential campaign, could affect the outcome. Opinions are mixed on whether the fortunes of presumed Democratic candidate John F. Kerry's fortunes will be helped or hindered by news stories and publicity focusing on Clinton.
"This is a unique event in publishing history," said John Baker, editorial director of Publishers Weekly."It is by far the biggest, most ambitious marketing campaign for a presidential memoir that I have ever seen."
When most presidents leave office, there is a sense that Americans know the important details about them, and that their stories have largely been told.
But Clinton remains a fascinating character to many people, someone whose persona is evolving. And there is an expectation that his book will reveal key details about his life.
At the NYU event, for example, he regaled the crowd with tidbits about his battle with Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr and others he considered political enemies.
As a presidential author, some observers say, Clinton is in a category by himself -- with more public interest in his celebrity than his governing.
"Do you really think readers will be spending money to get his 50-page take on the Middle East?" asked one publishing executive who has had experience with presidential memoirs."They're going to turn immediately to the stuff on [White House intern] Monica Lewinsky...."
Neil MacGregor, in the Guardian (June 14, 2004):
The collapse of the Tower of Babel is perhaps the central urban myth. It is certainly the most disquieting. In Babylon, the great city that fascinated and horrified the Biblical writers, people of different races and languages, drawn together in pursuit of wealth, tried for the first time to live together - and failed. The result was bleak incomprehension. Ambitious technology defying the natural order was punished as the tower that tried to reach the skies collapsed. Irreligion and promiscuity inevitably conjured the apocalypse.
Unlike Egypt, which in popular imagining continued serene through the centuries, Babylon is seen to have flourished and fallen again and again, the reading of each episode informed and deformed by those that went before. Mythical or historical, they go on and on: the Tower of Babel; the conquests of Nebuchednezzar and the invasion of Babylon by Cyrus and then Alexander; the glorious court of Haroun-Al-Rashid; the devastation of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, where the Tigris ran black with the ink of the manuscripts from the ransacked libraries. Is there any other culture for which the distant past, real or imagined, still wields such power?
If you want to understand day by day the turmoil of Iraq now, you can of course gorge on newspapers and television bulletins. But if you have any energy left, you should go to the British Museum and see a different kind of reportage.
The antiquities of Mesopotamia reveal the constants of Middle Eastern politics. Endlessly fluctuating frontiers and proliferating religions mean endless wars. Here, in the sculptured reliefs, are the cities bombarded, the hostages taken, the aggressive displays of military power, the puppet rulers installed, the brutality of militaristic regimes.
Baghdad fell last year, but Babylon falls every day in the National Gallery. In Rembrandt's Balshazzar's Feast, painted in Amsterdam in the 1630s, a corrupt and doomed ruler is about to be deposed by foreign armies, all apparently in the name of a God that he has disparaged. The writing on the wall announces (for those with eyes to see) that Balshazzar has been found wanting and that his kingdom will be divided among foreign occupiers. In a few hours divine retribution will strike. It is the biblical story as shaped by the Dutch 17th century....
Brian Whitaker, in the Guardian (June 16, 2004):
The undecided fate of Saddam Hussein's surviving monuments in Iraq sparked controversy last night at a public forum in the British Museum as debate focused on whether to demolish them or preserve them as a reminder of his rule.
"What counts is to have a fresh start," said Ghaith Abdul Ahad, a 28-year-old Iraqi architect-turned-journalist. "These monuments are just symbols of oppression."
However, Kanan Makiya, the author of The Monument, a book about Saddam's use of historical images to legitimise his regime, said the monuments should be kept to provide "thoughtful reflection".
Mr Makiya, who spent 35 years in exile, is founder of the Iraq Memory Foundation, which seeks to document the atrocities of Ba'athist rule and turn the area around Baghdad's Hands of Victory arches into a place for "education on life under tyranny".
The 140-ft twin arches are shaped like crossed swords and held by fists modelled on Saddam's own hands. Some of the metal came from the guns of Iraqi soldiers killed during the bloody eight-year conflict with Iran, and the ground below is scattered with the helmets of dead Iranian troops.
Mr Abdul Ahad said the idea of preserving the structures reminded him of foreigners coming back from Iraq with Saddam Hussein watches. "Why don't you get a couple of bones from a mass grave?" he told the audience at the event which was jointly organised by the Guardian and the museum.
He was less concerned about Babylon, which Saddam rebuilt using bricks inscribed with his name alongside those bearing the name of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.
"Nebuchadnezzar was a tyrant and Saddam was a tyrant. Together, they spanned "a continuous line of despotism," Mr Abdul Ahad said.
The British Museum's director, Neil MacGregor, noted that one of the first acts of new regimes is to obliterate the face of the previous ruler from monuments. He added: "The Iraqis need to decide what should happen to them."
... what is at stake each time we erase the news is not just the nation's security but, more important, our history.
And that's why it's helpful to turn to history for an object lesson, a case of wartime censorship where the issue was much less murky and the results—at first glance, at least—unambiguous. You've likely heard nothing about it. And that, of course, is the problem.
The censored story was one of World War II's oddest, and it involved a fleet of handmade balloons sent east by the empire of Japan. Improbable though it may sound, from late 1944 through the spring of 1945, the Japanese launched more than 9,000 balloons from their nation's eastern shores. Filled not with mild-mannered hot air but extremely flammable hydrogen and armed with incendiary and antipersonnel bombs, the balloons rode the jet stream across the Pacific Ocean for several days before landing throughout North America.
No, really. Throughout North America. From Alaska to Mexico and as far east as suburban Detroit. Perhaps even more incredible, the balloons themselves were not made of any high-tech, weather-hardened fabric but simple paper panels held together with potato glue.
An extraordinary story, right? Irresistible to any reporter and not just because of the balloons themselves, but because of their potential: If a balloon could carry incendiary bombs across the Pacific, without detection or advance warning, what else might travel aboard? Saboteurs? Biotoxins?
Sure enough, stories began to appear. The day after New Year's, 1945, for example, the New York Herald-Tribune carried a brief story about one of the first balloons to arrive. After that, however, even as the balloons were crash-landing at the rate of two or three per day, the nation's media remained largely mum. That's because on Jan. 4, two days after the Herald-Tribune ran its story, the Office of Censorship asked the nation's print and broadcast journalists to report absolutely nothing more about the balloon bombs. And no one did.
The way the rest of the story plays out proves problematic for foes and supporters alike of wartime censorship. For those who oppose censorship, it's hard to argue against the outcome: Throughout the spring of 1945, the Japanese carefully monitored the American press for mention of their balloons. They found none. And since supply routes and launch sites were getting hammered by an ever-closer American military, Japanese authorities finally decided they could not keep up their unusual campaign absent any evidence of success.
Yet, unbeknownst to them, or virtually anyone outside the U.S. government, the balloons were proving successful. One balloon, for example, managed to cut through power lines leading from the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. A resulting power outage that was quickly restored may sound insignificant; however, that particular dam provided power to a factory in Hanford, Wash., which was secretly manufacturing plutonium for use in the atomic bombs destined for Japan. When the power went out, the plant's emergency safeguards—which had never been tested—were suddenly called upon to prevent the reactor from melting down. Plant officials held their breath; everything worked as it was supposed to (though it took three days to resume full operations).
In the end, America's best defense may have been the weather. Designed to start fires—which would deplete natural resources and divert human ones—the balloons plummeted into the Pacific Northwest during its wettest months.
On May 22, 1945, the government suddenly changed its mind about the ban on press coverage. The War and Navy departments issued a joint statement announcing, in part,"It is the view of the departments that the possible saving of even one American life through precautionary measures would more than offset any military gain accruing to the enemy from the mere knowledge that some of his balloons actually have arrived on this side of the Pacific."
This sounds reasonable and prudent, if a bit tardy. But there's a reason the departments suddenly came around to this way of thinking, and this is where the balloon campaign becomes a troubling case study for censorship's supporters.
Seventeen days earlier, on May 5, the Rev. Archie Mitchell and his pregnant wife, Elsie, took a group of children from his church on an outing to Oregon's Gearhart Mountain. Mitchell let the kids out of the car before he went off to park. His wife got out, too, to supervise. Mitchell found a spot up the road and pulled over. As he was getting out, he saw his charges clustered around a large white object on the forest floor. One of the kids tugged at it.
The bomb exploded, killing all the children and Mrs. Mitchell. They were the only fatalities on the U.S. mainland due to enemy action during World War II, and though a marker remembers them on Gearhart Mountain today, they're mostly overlooked, as they were by the War and Navy departments in that May 22 statement, which made no mention of the fatalities, only that"Japanese free balloons are known to have landed or dropped explosives in isolated localities. No property damage has resulted."
That was technically true: Mitchell had parked his car well clear of the blast.
Should we censor the news in wartime? No question: There are times when discretion trumps dissemination. But people need to be told more than just,"Be wary." Be wary of what? A particular methodology or place, or a suspicious object, like a briefcase—or a balloon?
Case in point: It's estimated that 1,000 of those World War II balloons reached North America. To this day, only 286 have been found. Here's hoping the next hiker who finds one has heard the news.
What does the battle of the balloons have to do with today's war on terrorism (other than the bizarre coincidence that the Mitchell tragedy occurred near tiny Bly, Ore., the same spot where recently arrested Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is accused of trying to set up a terrorist training camp)?
Actually, the balloon battle may have less to do with us today than it does with citizens, soldiers, reverends, and children 60 years from now. Because as compelling a case as the balloon story may be for the virtues of wartime censorship, what's troubling is not that Americans in 1945 didn't know about these balloons; it's that most Americans today don't. The balloon bombs were erased not only from our national awareness, but from our collective history. We believe it never happened, just as our children might have been led to believe Abu Ghraib never happened....
John S.D. Eisenhower, in the International Herald Tribune (June 6, 2004):
The 60th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, on the day known in common parlance as D-Day, was once again an occasion to pause and contemplate its significance. Like all Americans, I am proud of the achievements of my fellow soldiers but aware of the ordeal they underwent. To this day, I view those men with respect bordering on awe.
To me, as the son of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the general who commanded that invasion, it carries an added dimension. I find it difficult to believe, even after all these years, that my own father was such a historic figure. Sixty years of repetitive observances of D-Day have not dimmed my wonder....
I am asked time and again, "What would your father think if he were alive today?"
At this point, I must emphasize that I cannot with any confidence give an opinion
regarding what my father would make of today's scene. He was unpredictable when
examining any new problem because he always viewed it in its entirety, totally
free of thumb rules and largely independent of tradition. More obviously, the
world has changed drastically during the 43 years since my father left the presidency
The most fundamental conviction that the period of Ike's command in Europe and the Mediterranean imprinted on his mind was the cruelty, wastefulness and stupidity of war. He saw at firsthand how war destroyed cities, killed innocent people (in which I include most of the participating soldiers), wiped out national economies and tore up the structure of civilizations. Its wastefulness cut him to the bone, and its specter never left him. As a result, as president he kept the military budget as small as was consistent with the safety of the nation. He expressed his convictions eloquently in April 1953, about three months after his inauguration as the 34th president of the United States:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed .
"The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
"It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
"It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals .
"We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed 8,000 people."
Not surprisingly, the war that included D-Day had made a pacifist of the man who bore the responsibility, its supreme commander.
As I consider the effect that D-Day and the war in Europe had on my father,
I am struck by the degree to which it convinced him of the value of allies.
With his detestation of war as a means of settling international disputes, Ike applauded the formation of the United Nations in 1945, even though he had no hand in its formation. Leaving the army in 1948 for private life, he was recalled to active duty in early 1951 to organize the military forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization when the military threat from the east seemed to become imminent. In his stay in Paris, Ike developed a strong belief in NATO that he never lost.
It so happens that I was witness to one example of Ike's concern for the opinions and attitudes of his allies during his presidency. In September 1959, Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union served up an ultimatum to the Western allies to get out of West Berlin or else. Ike chose to negotiate while rejecting the ultimatum. In the course of the ensuing talks, a mix-up in signals in the State Department resulted in an unintended invitation for Khrushchev to visit the United States alone, not in the company of all the nations involved in the current crisis.
That unilateral invitation may or may not have turned out to be a good thing, but the incident illustrated Ike's concern that his allies - now Britain, France and the newly emerging West Germany - be assured that he had no intention of representing their interests in his forthcoming conferences with Khrushchev. So Ike took some of his personal staff and boarded a new Boeing 707 on its maiden voyage as Air Force One to visit Konrad Adenauer in Bonn, Harold Macmillan in Britain and de Gaulle in Paris. With all of them he conducted frank talks, and Ike's allies were reassured. He would have it no other way....
Ike totally disapproved of "preventive war," and that conviction was put to the test early in his presidency. Some time in the early 1950s the Soviet development of the hydrogen bomb and the means to deliver it caused many Americans, some of Ike's advisers among them, to advocate launching a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union while the United States still enjoyed a preponderance of atomic power and the means of delivering atomic weapons. It would be preferable, these people argued, to remove the Soviet weapons of mass destruction. No legal or moral justification was required. A few million Americans would be killed, of course, but a far fewer number than if we waited and allowed the "Evil Empire" (not Ike's term) to strike first.
Ike would have none of it. Throughout his presidency he combined a policy of maintaining a military deterrent to war while at the same time extending the hand of friendship. The uneasy peace between the United States and the Soviet Union - the cold war - continued for nearly 50 years. It was expensive and it was dangerous, but civilization survived....
Many of Ike's policies were different from those we see being followed today. But he was the first to admit that situations change, and the policies followed in one generation might be used as guides to future action but never rules. How he would view today's world scene, I repeat that I do not know.
But I wonder.